Russian police have arrested prominent
gay activists in Moscow ahead of the Eurovision Song Contest finale,
The gay pride march, Slavic Pride, was
banned by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, while an anti-gay demonstration
by right-wing ultra-nationalists was allowed to take place.
Demonstrators gathered near Moscow
State University where they chanted “Homophobia is the shame of
Russia!” and “Equal rights for everyone!” They were quickly
surrounded by police who violently arrested the protesters.
Among the arrested were three prominent
gay activists: Nikolai Alekseev, organizer of Slavic Pride, Peter
Tatchell, a UK gay rights activist, and Andy Thayer, co-founder of
the Chicago-based gay rights group Gay Liberation Network.
Thayer was nabbed by police as he spoke
with reporters. “If … the right to assemble is taken away from
lesbian and gay people here in Russia, then other Russians have to
fear their own freedom,” Thayer said seconds before he was carted
“The arrests were done in a very
violent, aggressive manner,” Tatchell told The Associated Press
after his release. “We believe the reaction of the Moscow police
was totally unjustified.”
Police seized more gay rights activists
involved in a smaller demonstration in Moscow's central Pushkin
Square. Authorities said 40 demonstrators were arrested but several
sources have reported as many as 80 arrests.
Organizers called upon Eurovision Song
Contest participants to stand in solidarity by boycotting the
contest's finale just hours away.
“I call upon all of the artists who
are due to perform at tonight's Eurovision [finale] to boycott the
event and send a message that Russia's state oppression of human
rights is not acceptable,” said Alekseev.
At least one contestant had threatened
to boycott the event should violence occur at Slavic Pride. Dutch
singer Gordon, a member of The Toppers, told Radio
Netherlands, “If violence is used during the demonstration, I'll
fly straight back to the Netherlands.”